Taking Advantage of Off-Season Benefits

Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

The off-season. For years, that description was successful in keeping most Americans from traveling from September to June.

Too bad. Because, as more people have discovered, it's often the best time to go.

Rates are cheaper, destinations are less crowded, there's no wait for seating at restaurants and, in some countries, the people seem decidedly friendlier.

From October, 1987, through April, 1988, more than 2.6 million Americans visited Europe in the off-season, a 13% increase over 1986-87.

And since December the dollar has gained 10% to 15% against many European currencies.

Restrictions Reduced

As a result, many airlines and tour operators are promoting substantial winter vacation packages at discounted prices. Pan Am, TWA and other carriers flying to Europe have marketed discount air fares. In many cases they've also reduced the advance-purchase time restrictions.

For example, KLM is offering vacation deals for winter travelers between now and March 15. The airline's "Holland-on-the-Double" deal offers round-trip air fare and hotel accommodations for one week for $441 (from New York). From Chicago it's $491, and from Los Angeles, $581.

The airline also offers "Europe-on-the-Double," an excursion that pairs Amsterdam with London, Vienna or Paris for one week, including air fare and hotels, for $669.

In Portugal, visitors can stay at a pousada for less than $50 a night. In Italy, Ciga hotels has a "welcome voucher" discount for two people staying seven days. The offer is available through March 31.

The 400-room St. James Court Hotel in London has one of the best deals yet until March 31: a third night free for each two-night stay. With the special rate, a three-night stay averages 73 (about $124 U.S.) a night. Considering the strength of the pound versus the dollar, and the fact that even moderate hotels in London average $181 per room a night, this is a great deal.

City of Lights

Even the upscale Hotel de Crillon in Paris, not exactly a place known for discounting its rooms, has a winter package. The hotel calls it the "Crillon Passion," a minimum two-night stay priced at $145 double occupancy. The "Crillon Emotion," at $242 per person double occupancy, also includes lunch or dinner at Michelin, the hotel's restaurant. There's a "Crillon Seduction" package (at $299 per person double occupancy), which includes a private guided tour.

There are upscale bargain packages as well. Loews Hotels and Air France offer a Monte Carlo fall rate. For $1,189 from New York you get six nights at Loews Monte Carlo Hotel, air fare, a Hertz rental car, free use of the hotel's spa facilities and one free massage. The hotel also throws in free admission to Monte Carlo's museums and gardens.

Badrutt's Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, is promoting an exclusive skiing week: a room for seven nights, continental breakfast and dinner each day, a six-day ski pass valid at 47 ski lifts, shuttle service and other goodies, including a formal black-tie dinner. The promotion begins Jan. 7 and continues through April 1. Rates are from $1,013 to $1,709 per person double occupancy.

Dozens of hotels in the United States are discounting their best rooms, offering attractive weekend packages and travel promotions through December, and many are extending the promotions and discounts through March.

Some hotels have discounted their rooms and added a few extra amenities to the package.

Breakfast in Bed

In Kansas City, through Dec. 30, the Hyatt Regency Crown Center offers weekend packages for $99, including champagne and breakfast in bed or Sunday brunch.

The Hotel Pontchartrain in Detroit has slashed weekend rates to $59. For $79 a weekend package includes valet parking, health club privileges and American breakfast for two.

In Los Angeles the new Marriott Hotel in Century City offers a "suite weekend" for $159 a room per night (single or double occupancy).

Included in the deal: full breakfast for two, complimentary valet parking and complimentary limousine service to and from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The promotion runs through Dec. 26.

The hotel is also promoting three theater weekend packages. On Dec. 3, 10 and 17 the hotel offers a suite for two, complimentary valet parking and limousine service to and from Rodeo Drive, pre-theater dinner and two tickets for the evening performance of "Les Miserables" at the Shubert Theater. The cost: $299 for the weekend.

Luxurious Spa Suite

In Carmel the upscale Highlands Inn offers its "winter hideaway" celebration through March 31. Midweek visitors get a luxurious spa suite complete with wood-burning fireplace and private-view deck for $165 a night (a 45% discount off regular rates).

On the deluxe end, the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage has special Thanksgiving and New Year's rates. A "holiday getaway" package available Nov. 24-26 runs $320 per person, double occupancy. And the New Year's "getaway package" Dec. 28-31 runs $650 per person double occupancy.

If you're a golfer, the Scottsdale Princess promotes the "Royal Tee." Beginning at $287 per person double occupancy, through Dec. 31, the 450-acre Arizona resort offers a room with private terrace, breakfast and lunch, golf, club storage and cleaning, and use of the Princess health spa.

Marriott's Tan-Tar-A Resort and Golf Club in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., has slashed room rates to $45 a room per night from Dec. 11 to Jan. 7. But golf is an outdoor sport and it is winter in Missouri.

In New York City the Grand Bay Hotel at Equitable Center is marketing two deluxe weekend packages. The weekend includes accommodations in a junior or one-bedroom suite, French Champagne and continental breakfast for $275 a night (single or double). For a regular room the deal is called the "Baby Grand" and runs $180 a night single or double occupancy.

In San Francisco the "Portman Perfect Holiday Experience" packages, available Nov. 25 through Jan. 8, are ideal for visitors who want to shop till they drop. Included are a deluxe room, complimentary gift wrapping and complimentary valet parking. The cost is $160 a night single or double.

Some hotels such as the Portman will even throw in--for an additional fee--a personal shopper to help you with your Christmas list.

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